Theory, Sophistry, Bullshit, Style

Now academized here.

Where questions of style and exposition are concerned I try to follow a simple maxim: if you can’t say it clearly you don’t understand it yourself.
- John Searle

Sometimes the obvious is the enemy of the true.
- Gabriel Stolzenberg

I'm away to go study Derrida, mostly because I really want to know if he's the most brilliant comedian to ever work in academic philosophy. But the first thing about him one has to face is not his rejection of power; not his work in developing structuralism; nor even that he was continually demonized as a nihilist: no, the first thing about him is that he could not (or would not) write well.

And, bizarrely, this foible is at the heart of the most popular dismissal of the unsettling work that Derrida and other postmodernist theorists have flung at us. Taking Searle's maxim (above), the critique goes: they're obscure, therefore they're all speaking shite.

It is suggested that there is a subculture in academic thought uniting the disciplines/buzzwords "Cultural Studies", "postmodernism", "poststructuralism", "La pensée 68", "post-colonial studies" and "Critical Theory" (or even just "Theory"). I hope that this grouping looks as artificial to you as it does to me, but for the sake of this I'll grant it subsistence under the umbrella postmodernism (though the principal buzzword of our time, “Continental philosophy”, is also commonly misused for the purpose)

It is suggested that it is the ruling tendency in loads of humanities departments, and it is further suggested that there is nothing to them: the backlash has been swinging for ages, with a great number of well-written things arguing that the whole (putative) thing is a outbreak of disguised scepticism, or anti-rationalism, or just shoddy, meaningless pretension. There's real bile involved, for an academic abstraction of themes. The detractors will not mind being designated pomophobes.

What self-important shit!

Postmodernism defies definition in part because it is a diverse (and potentially bogus) classification; in part because the term is often used pejoratively, often disowned by those labelled with it; but more fundamentally because any definition of it is self-defeating – to define is to set a fixed semantic limit, and the denial of this objective standard of meaning is a basic thesis of the thing. There is, and can be, no postmodernist manifesto. Here's some themes, though:

  • Breathtaking openmindedness:
    • Semiology as method of inquiry (obsession with signs, language)
    • Semantic relativism as to texts (we apply, not extract meaning).
    • Cultural relativism (rejection of inter-society epistemic hierarchy, all that).

  • Reality viewed as a product of texts (that is, our cultural environment: stories, theories, values, and the “metanarratives” built from these):
    • Scepticism about values in hierarchy (there's a crap joke about "good writing" in here)
    • Non-naturalism,
    • Anti-humanism
    • Fervent belief in power of ideas,
    • In reading as a political act
    • in the importance of unread theorists (pretension)
    • "I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives." - Lyotard
    • Obsession with power (Foucault)
    • Rejection of objectivity, absolute science (Feyerabend)

    And, most pertinently for our purposes:

  • A highly abstract, technical, ironic, and insular writing style. The postmodern theorist places themselves “under erasure”.

  • That is,
  • Being difficult.

Actually, on the note of scepticism, compare:



I’ve dipped into what they [postmodernist theorists] write, out of curiosity, but not very far, for reasons already mentioned: what I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate, based on extraordinary misreading of texts that I know well (sometimes, that I have written), argument that is appalling in its casual lack of elementary self-criticism, lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish.
- Noam Chomsky


The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
- Judith Butler

Right. Well, we obviously do have a problem. Why is there so much jargon, though?

Allegation #1: The French Deception

They know themselves that their ideas are empty, so they smokescreen with intelligent-sounding nonsense. Take away the convoluted vocabulary and the impenetrable syntax and you are left with little or nothing – except what is perhaps the most extraordinary religious movement which history has known.
- Richard Webster

Suggestion is: massive obscurantism on the part of many thousands of people working in and around academia. That is, that postmodernism is intentionally and radically counterfeit. This is patently the lowest rank (the grandest scale) of conspiracy theory, and one held by folk who characterize their enemies as the anti-rationalists. Chimes with the Classical smear-campaign run on the Sophists, another movement derided as rhetorical frauds.

Allegation #2: Keeping up with Profs Joneses

Postmodernism as unintentionally elitist: a culture of “bad” rhetorical habits meeting ordinary self-interest to produce confirmation bias and hot air. Practices are reinforced when the peer community, worried about the need to impress, endorses each other even where discourse is turgid and/or hollow. This theory is also quite silly, though is at least human-sounding. More sympathetically: academics are taught in jargon, and much of what we read is laden with it; we mimic this, first of all, because a distinctive jargon is customary in all fields: the convention that contains the other conventions.

Allegation #3: Argument from Sokal’s hoax

Physicist makes some people fall on their ass; his parody passes for sincere Liberation work.

It is a good joke. But some use the affair as a reductio-ad-absurdam of all cultural studies, or all interdisciplinary critique, which it really isn't. It's instead just indication that you should never criticize from the outside (from a position of ignorance, that is), that peer review is fucking lax sometimes; and that honesty in academic research is limited by a process which doesn't need an expert in the discussed field to at least skim it. To suggest that Sokal somehow "debunked" the "movement" makes a hatchet job out of a party popper.

In response, Gabriel Stolzenberg argues with those involved in the "Science Wars" that Sokal was playing with here.

Allegations #4 & 5: The economics of thought
A highly plausible (if cynical) pair of ideas:

  • that jargon proliferates because, when a group has an advantage, they will seek to cement that advantage. (i.e. it is in the interests of each brand of academics to have their own language, so that the long, expensive training they went through to become an insider is, or is seen as, valuable)
  • And, secondly, that there is a strong market pressure towards volume of published researched (rather than “quality”, say), and that what wins journal space is what what deals with the academic flavour of the month and talks the orthodox talk. Jargon and the other hallmarks of research writing could thus be seen as a protective scholarly veneer of rigour and sophistication (or a “preference falsification”).

In the current crisis of hiring freezes and intense pressure for tenure, the need to publish is perhaps greater than any time before. Yet to publish in most journals means flinging the jargon, toeing the party line (which is somewhere to the left of gibberish), and quoting the usual suspects (Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida, Said, Jameson, Butler, etc.). I’m often appalled at my own writing, but since jargon, rather than substance, gains a publication, I succumb to verbiage.

- Anon philosopher feeling this moral hazard,
sent to Dutton's Bad Writing contest

Allegation #6: Writing to impress rather than inform
Ease might even be interpreted as lack of quality in contexts like serious research. There were another series of studies a couple of years ago (which I can't bloody find, now) which found a psychological bias towards jargon and mumblespeak.

One was an experiment in which two economics papers expressing the same propositions (as original, as well-researched as each other) were submitted to a presumably unbriefed marker. One was clearly written, with a minimum of maths, the other was “badly” written and filled with extraneous proofs. The latter type was consistently marked higher. The implication is that complexity can be impressive, blindingly so.

This suggest that the prevalence of jargon may be due, not to any dishonesty on the part of academics, but to a basic tendency of the mind to 1) esteem things which it already concurs with (“confirmation bias”) and 2) to esteem things which confound it (mysticism). (Anecdotal evidence here.)

Justification #1: The politics of clarity

Pomophobes tend to assume:
  1. that language can be neutral (that style and content are separable);
  2. that univocity prevails (that author-intention is the first and only really pertinent content of a text);
  3. and that “clear” writing can come without ideological baggage.
From Roland Barthes: In truth, [clear] writing is clear only to the extent that it is generally accepted... For to write is already to organize the world, it is already to think."

Texts are not to be thought of as divisible into form (language) and content (recovered pre-language), because form itself is shot through with cultural assumptions. We should be wary of following “clear writing” on to “good writing”, since this is a built-in snob, like “good taste” or “propriety”.

Adorno surely had it right when he wrote about those who recirculate received opinion: 'only what they do not need first to understand, they consider understandable; only the word coined by commerce (and really alienated) touches them as familiar.'
- Butler

The claim is that readable writing is so because it tends to be mere truism, reuse of existing (and thus probably politically corrupt) ideas. The postmodern progressive sees a need to form “alternative procedures” of writing, and arguments often proceed from Marxist premises – for example, that what is “ordinary” or “common sense” is likely to be politically conservative (the theory of stable ideologies) – and from there conclude that the values and idioms of “clear writing” are basically bourgeois.

A piece is readable because familiar;
familiar, because conventional;
and “conventional” implies conservative.

There is an idea, which even some philosophers (such as Stephen Stich and Brian Leiter) have taken up, which is that what is left for philosophy/the non-sciences to do is to tidy up our thinking, no more. To just resolve linguistic illusions; define; clarify; and maybe unify. Postmodernism is the will to rip off the apron and throw out the dustpan. From this perspective, a text’s being called problematic is not at all pejorative, but to be aimed for; jargon is taken to be a symptom of this struggle; groundbreaking, as it might be put clearly, is messy.

Allegations #2, #4 and #5 all suggest poor presentation habits getting reinforced – but these typically apply to all fields, and extend well beyond university. None of the attributes of “bad writing” listed above are only postmodernists. No one makes this criticism of Kant, and he more or less coined his own German to write in. Wittgenstein can often be whimsically unhelpful, as when he says things like: “I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking.”

Justification #2: Insularity from specialization

We might take jargon to be just the shorthand of the professional, enabling concise, precise discussion amongst pre-engaged peers.
[One reason we have difficulty reading Derrida] is that he is a Continental philosopher, with a range of reference that is not widely available outside that tradition. Many of his more impenetrable remarks turn out to be allusions to Plato, Hegel, or Heidegger, and not obscure at all to people who have those writers at their fingertips, in a way most of us don’t.
- Catherine Belsey

Academia continues to fragment into subfields with their own niche journals: an academic today whose paper is read by, say, a thousand people is unusually successful. As to allegation #1 and #2: it is likely that there is no conspiracy at play, but simply that work is written to a committed, specialist audience. What this insularity says to the stated intent of many postmodernists (to effect change in the world) is another matter.

Justification #3: Intentional writingness (complexity & indeterminacy)

A friend of mine who tries to read Friedrich Nietzsche once described the ambiguous/symbolic style of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as just “dickery”, but there is an underlying doctrine to it. Nietzsche wanted to emphasise the validity of perspectives and the fact that speech is never only one thing (the “multivocity” of language); this is writing made “difficult”, not so as to exclude, but to encourage multiple readings. This foreshadows the project which amounts to the positive element of postmodernism: it would not suit Derrida for us to ever fully understand his work, because this would assert our reading as The Reading, and this kills all the other ones.
Good prose is like a window pane.
- Orwell
but this is precisely the opposite of the provocative wall that postmodernists might aim for. Catherine Belsey explains that: “…it is important from the point of view of the case against logocentrism to demonstrate in practice that language is not transparent, not a pane of glass through which ideas are perceptible in their pure intelligibility.” Convolution makes the reader work. When reading Derrida, you are not allowed to forget that you are reading; the text’s opacity forces us to be reflective and reflexive, if not paranoid.

It's too easy to cry "Enlightenment!" (for either side: as a rallying cry or an insult). There's politics under this all, and by "politics" here I mean hidden agendas. The twenty-year old debate is not simply:


(or, if it is, then it anyway can't be separated out from other bickering, some of which is as old as rational inquiry:)

How many of you consider yourselves politically Left, or would like to? How often have you heard the complaint that there isn't a proper Left anymore? It occurs to me that the answer got lost inbetween these two camps, both of whom consider themselves socially progressive. Half the people who might have prodded us on have retreated into sullen academic radicalism, to be mocked and suspected by the other half.

Anyway, I refuse to take the pomophobe's (valid) aesthetic criticism to be the grand exposé they want it to be. As an undergrad (that is, a hick) and a sympathetic sort (that is, a mark), I reckon there's a great deal to be done before I can write off (or endorse) Jacquie D and his mates.

Here's a start: the passage that opens this blog, when unpacked, is not (just) a slightly spooky piece of wank, but actually (also) a really lucid ironic point about prejudices in the work of Plato. It even leads us to a Big Ass (Clear) Claim: that speech is just a kind of writing. Why this matters even if it is true... well, you'll have to give me a minute.

Last word:
There are three reasons why we have difficulty reading Derrida. The first is that he is a (Continental) philosopher, with a range of reference that is not widely available outside that tradition. Many of his more impenetrable remarks turn out to be allusions to Plato, Hegel, or Heidegger, and not obscure at all to people who have those writers at their fingertips, in a way most of us don't.

Second, he is very meticulous. What can seem repetitive and precious comes from a desire to be precise.

But third, it is also important from the point of view of the case against logocentrism to demonstrate in practice that language is not transparent, not a pane of glass through which ideas are perceptible in their pure intelligibility.

- Catherine Belsey

Though another dubious motive presents itself...

At the moment, to defeat the great capitalist beast, you have to create secret circles, to hide things. Things have to be hidden in such a way that they're not so easily findable or understandable, at least by the functionaries of capitalism. You have to confuse them. - Felix Kubin


Good God (Religiose Pop)

Religion and rock music are essentially diametric, even though one developed from the other; most religions presume to work towards perfection; rock music is about embracing imperfection."
- Jocelyn Hoppa

That said...

1. Baba Yetu - Christopher Tin
(the impossible gladness of Grace)

2. Into My Arms - Nick Cave
(god-fearing as seduction)

3. I'm On My Way To A Better Place - Chairmen Of The Board

4. Look Up - Chris Bell
(awe is not awesome)

5. Word On A Wing - David Bowie
(the purity of having a really shit time)

6. You In The Sky - Waterboys

7. Happy Guy - NOFX
(tolerance, even condescending tolerance, is the only way you're getting out alive)

8. God's Gonna Cut You Down - Johnny Cash
(it was once about wroth and grinding bones. Traces...)

9. "I Bid You Goodnight" - Byrne or Plant or...
(the equanimous end)

11. They Hung Him On A Cross - Leadbelly

12. I Luv I Jah - Bad Brains
(The Lord is an acceptable motivation [if you're not white])

13. I Will Follow You - Death Cab
(lame atheists)

14. Shine On Sweet Jesus - Flaming Lips

15. Jesus - Glen Campbell (or Velvet Underground)

16. After Forever - Sabbath

17. All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
(Scouse Taoism)

18. I Fought Piranhas - White Stripes
(The Passion)

19. Laughing With - Regina Spektor
(Utility of belief; foxholes and dignity)

20. Every Grain Of Sand - Bob Dylan
(on immanence)

Obviously, every-other classical piece written before 1900 is its own impossible playlist, too.


Sans ceremonie

"What are you, a cold-blooded murderer or the controller of Radio 3?"
- good question


What I spoke: "Oh, I didn't know magpies were so blue."

What I said: "I see a magpie. (I haven't examined a magpie this close before.) This magpie has a lot of blue above its tail feathers; Therefore all magpies have a lot of blue above their tailfeathers. I did not generalize that before."

(Our hidden leaps...)


Some economics thoughts from summer notebooks (that is, all of them; it's pretty sick how little I think about it):

1. Children are a positive externality. (But the costliest good.)

"It is for children that we want heaven"
- John Irving

I mean children in general, not, say, the ones sitting just behind your plane seat. Production of the brand continues out of a curious mix of near-total market anarchism and the hiring of the greatest PR firm in history: Socialization Inc. They can bring direct, consumer (parent) utility, but I simply don't credit the idea that they're enjoyable on a net basis.

Why "positive", then? Well, we've all seen Children Of Men, and it's highly credible that this is how we'd go, without a symbolic future going around screaming and waving a stick with some poo on the end.

We want another chance; if not for ourselves then another round of poor buggers to try and set right our mistakes.

2. We keep killing everything because the solutions are so boring.

There's an environmental ec course running this term, and I really ought do it, because the real, applied ways to solve all the shit we do are psychologically unavailable and somebody has to.

An exception to the tedium being Myhrvold's silly-ass sulphur-dioxide SKYPUMP and all the other macho-Enlightenment things that ring of Team America.

3. The oppressed have such sinister dreams. (Get rich / die tryin.)

4. Doing flexitime properly:

The basic equation for income is just (wage x hours-of-labour). But this ignores the marginal product across different people at the same task. So, adjust:

wage x labour x intensity

Intensity might be rate of assembly, or no. of emails to answer per whatever. (Where the job is something which can scale MPL without loss of quality.)

This sounds horrible at first - just another hi-tech way for bastards to squeeze their underlings' life out - but it came from a thought-process against mechanizing folk - allowing individuals to choose their style of work.

1. Everyone has a set of abilities, a capacity for task [x].
2. Better, everyone has different priorities, like wanting to be out in the afternoon sunshine instead of at work.
3. You could design aptitude tests, and thereby find the upper level for each person. They then set the intensity between very low (for hungover days) and their tested maximum (for when you need the money / to leave early).

Two hours at intensity 0.5 = one hour at intensity 1. And so on.

5. "The bitterness of poor quality /
Lingers long after /
The sweetness of low price is forgotten..."
- John Ruskin


Horrible anecdote from Heathrow toilets; the savage, note-perfect callousness of children:

Dad: What's the matter, Si? Do you wish we were still in Italy?

Si: Yes. [pause, gets an Idea.] It's all your fault, Daddy.

Dad: [uncomfortable] Well. Come on, do up your trousers.

Si: It's all your fault.
It's all your fault! It's. All. Your. Fault.
[being led out by dad, silently]


Why do we make such weird noises when waking reluctantly? Can only have evolved so that our partners can smile and shake their heads at us.


Thing which needs a neologism:

a cluster of rock music phenomena involving

  1. an aged musical artist (especially country or blues) accruing
  2. critical acclaim from
  3. an overdue comeback,
  4. especially under a young svengali producer/collaborator,
  5. perhaps containing covers (especially zany covers).
  6. >
  7. The festival circuit and/or very large sales may follow.


  • rubination - "The rubination is nearly complete." (hmmm)

  • May-to-September Music - "Jack White pulled 18 hour days making sweet may-to-September music"

  • retro-rocket -

  • readvention

- Johnny Cash (& Rick Rubin) - on the American Recordings (1994-2003). Satisfies 1,2,3,4,5&6.

- Neil Diamond (& Rick Rubin)- on 2005's 12 Songs. Satisfies 1,2,3,4,5&6.

- Wanda Jackson (& Jack White) - on 2011's The Party Ain't Over. Satisfies 1,2,3,4,5& perhaps soon 6.

- Loretta Lynn (& Jack White) - on 2004's Van Lear Rose. Satisfies 1,2,3,4.

- Mavis Staples (& Jeff Tweedy) - 2010's You Are Not Alone. 1,3,4.

- Shirley Bassey (& the world) - on 2008's The Performance. Satisfies 1,2,3,4,5, and of course 6.

- Vashti Bunyan (& Max Richter & Animal Collective!) - on 2005's Lookaftering. 1,2,3,4,6.

- Bettye Lavette (& Joe Henry) - on 2005's I've Got My Own Hell To Raise. 1,2,3,4,5.

- Willie Nelson (& Daniel Lanois) - on 1998's Teatro. Satisfies 1,4,6.
- Willie Nelson (& Ryan Adams) - on 2004's Songbird. Satisfies 1,2,4,5,6.

- Howlin Wolf (& Norman Dayron) - on 1971's The London Sessions. Satisfies 1,2,3,4.

- Muddy Waters (& Johnny Winter) - on 1977's Hard Again. 1,2,3.

- RL Burnside (& Jon Spencer) - on 1996's A Ass Pocket of Whiskey and others. 1,3,4.

- John Fahey (& Jim O'Rourke) - on 1997's Womblife, leading to a bizarre avant-garde turn. 1,3,4.

- Glen Campbell - 2008's Meet Glen Campbell, cover dreck. 1,3,5.

- Gil Scott-Heron (& Richard Russell) - on 2010's I'm New Here. 1,2,3,4.

- Candi Staton (& Mark Nevers) - 2006's His Hands. 1,3,4,5.

- Robert Plant (& T-Bone Burnett) - on 2006's Raising Sand. 1,2,3,4,6.

and even
- The Stooges (& Steve Albini) on The Weirdness. 1,3,6.

Tom Jones continues to try, but he really never rose anywhere in the first place and so cannot fall.


So, I'm putting together a series of teasers for Aberdeen Uni's philsoc at the mo. Here's the proofs:

And, in response to that last one, some old-time religion:


Blonde Analytic

Begriff: Blonde women
Abteilung: Sociology
Aufgabe: Get negative about Gaze
Methode: Feminist dialectic

Ana: Why are blonde women (supposed to be) more attractive?

Phora: Because the norms say so.

Ana: Yes, but that's a structural reply; I want a proper one.

Phora: Well...because they're caricatured as stupid.

Ana: So?

Phora: From there, Blondeness is taken as signifying a controllable person, which is ideal under a nasty reading of the world and sex's power relations.

Ana: There's also the question of purity: it's only recently (post-WWII) that blonde characters were ever used as villains. This isn't to draw any Aryan crap out of the thing, it's probably just the halo effect - angelic and innocent; hair of gold.

Phora: There's maybe even an element of supply and demand to it, since non-European countries fetishize them even more.

Ana: All this shit is about ideals. The mistake is to think that feminine "ideals" are especially good ones (feminine =/= womanly). All you can really say is that they're better than masculine ones.

Parting Playlist

"Speak the truth - but leave immediately afterwards."
- Slovene proverb

On Spotify Here

An inverted reply to a musical reply to the thing I wrote on love.

Most songs are about love, sex, or loving sex. Better: most are about the glory of it, wanting it, or heartbreak. There's little space for resenting its incursion into your business, or how it fucks up your social circle; being glad of the back of someone; pining because you're trapped in a shit relationship; or simply suddenly losing interest, all commonplace in life and missing in culture. (I suppose this is where grime comes in.)
The dumped is always focalised; we don't have a decent cultural vocabulary in which to treat leavers or rejectors. They're enigmatic dicks, or nothing. But it sucks to leave too - to happen to fall out of love first and have to do something about it - and it's just inadequate to have one mechanical trope for justifying the action (being abused or cheated on). You can be heartbroken to leave.
It's actually strange that there aren't many sympathetic treatments of leavers, since logically around half of us are. Right? Anyway: songs why love stops.

1. No reason.
Just stopped. Terrifying - "Nihil est sine ratione? Falsa; amor est."

(Freebird comes closest to this, but I'm damned if it's getting linked.)

2. Psychobabble blame. 
Subconscious resentment; transference; projection; low first-state psychosocial development, etc.

3. Sudden cowardice.

4. Sudden bravery.
The need of self-determination, or riding without stabilizers.

5. Because there are no more chemicals left in you (see 1?)

Endlessly appropriate that the sound of reductionism is dubstep.

6. Moment of clarity
(Lamia - Keats)

"...Poor Lamia answer'd not.
He gaz'd into her eyes, and not a jot
Own'd they the lovelorn piteous appeal:
More, more he gaz'd: his human senses reel:
Some hungry spell that loveliness absorbs;
There was no recognition in those orbs.
"Lamia!" he cried - and no soft-toned reply.
The many heard, and the loud revelry
Grew hush; the stately music no more breathes;
The myrtle sicken'd in a thousand wreaths.
By faint degrees, voice, lute, and pleasure ceased;
A deadly silence step by step increased,
Until it seem'd a horrid presence there,
And not a man but felt the terror in his hair.
"Lamia!" he shriek'd; and nothing but the shriek
With its sad echo did the silence break.
"Begone, foul dream!" he cried, gazing again
In the bride's face, where now no azure vein
Wander'd on fair-spaced temples; no soft bloom
Misted the cheek; no passion to illume
The deep-recessed vision - all was blight;
Lamia, no longer fair, there sat a deadly white..."

7. Grown apart. / Things just aren't going anywhere.
Also, maybe excess intimacy breeds resentment, somehow?

8. Utilitarianism.


9. Because they cannot dance.

(Astounding comment attached in that link: "Genesis found a way to convert sex into sound.")

IRL, none of these are reason enough for the spurned. So once you find yourself with one of them, the search for a pretext to leave begins. (The most common being the orifices of another person.)

Songs To and From Beijing

1. Sure Shot - Beastie Boys
"Because you can't and you won't and you don't STOP"

2. The Capital - Auden
"In unlighted streets you hide away the appalling..."

3. Legal Man - Belle & Sebastian
"Get out of the city...and into the sunshine"

4. Hunter Gets Captured By the Game - Marvelettes
"Everyday things change / And the world puts on a new face
Certain things rearrange / And this world seems like a new place

5. VI. A Major Port - Auden
"Only the brass-bands throbbing in the parks foretell /
Some future reign of happiness and peace. /
We learn to pity and rebel."

6. New Wave - Against Me!
"We can control the medium / We can control the context of presentation"

7. The Dream Is Dead - Type O Negative
"I can't believe things turned out this way, and though I hate to see you go..."

8. Sonnets From China II - Auden
"They wondered why the fruit had been forbidden: /
It taught them nothing new. They hid their pride, /
But did not listen much when they were chidden:
They knew exactly what to do outside.

9. Breathe Out - Reptile and Retard
"The surface seems so anxious to be broken, as if pleading for my feet to kick it in"

10. If the News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It - Broken Records
"The politicians, they don't speak for me..."

11. Is She Really Going Out With Him? - Joe Jackson
"Cause if my eyes don't deceive me there's something going wrong around here"

12. Sonnets From China, VI
"At last She beckoned to him, he obeyed, //
Looked in Her eyes: awe-struck but unafraid, /
Saw there reflected every human weakness, /
And knew himself as one of many men.

13. Illumination - Gogol Bordello
"OF COURSE there is no Us and Them, but Them they do not think the same"

14. Sonnets From China, XII
"There is a plan / For living men in terror of their lives,
Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,
Who can be lost and are, who miss their wives
And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

15. Occident - Joanna Newsom
"To leave your home and your family for some distortion of property;
Well, darling, I can't go. But you may stay here with me

16. To Build A Home - Cinematic Orchestra
"Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust...it's time to leave, turn to dust."


1. Revolution in Jingshan Park (2010) - a hundred old folk
2. I'll Be Waiting - The Lotus
4. Mad Train - ZiGZaG
5. Yangpu Qu - Pairs
6. Kill Your Belly - Hang On The Box
7. Cry For Young - Bigger Bang!
8. Beijing Is Not My Home - Demerit
9. All You Got to Doohoo - Mr Windmill
10. 47 Rockets - WHITE
11. Ass Hole I'm Not Your Baby - Hang On The Box
12. National Anthem (@ Tiananmen) - state tannoy
13. ANARCHY IN THE PRC - Brain Failure
14. No pains no gains - No.4 Man (Nature Study)
15. Oh Jim - Ourself Beside Me
16. 从头再来 (Do It All Over Again) - Cui Jian
18. Disabled busker on the subway (@ Yong'anli Zhan) - Anon
19. Yellow River Concerto - comp. Xian Xinghai, arr. Communists
20. Guang Ling San - Minzu Yinyue
21. Good Morning, Midnight! - Emily Dickinson

You really ought to give this a go, too. On lesbianism in China.

Fuck it, here's the whole first Hang on the Box album. It's not riot grrrl (no matter what anyone says), but neither is it Shonen Knife.


Showing more than Saying (the Tractatus in Pictures)

Wittgenstein does not, however, relegate all that is not inside the bounds of sense to oblivion. He makes a distinction between saying (sagen) and showing (zeigen) which is made to do additional work.

There are, beyond the senses (
Sinne) that can be formulated in sayable propositions, things that can only be shown. These show themselves in the form of (contingent) propositions, in the symbolist and logical propositions, and even in the unsayable (metaphysical, ethical, aesthetic) propositions of philosophy. 'What can be shown cannot be said.' But it is there, in language, even though it cannot be said.

- Anat Biletzski

Sketches from the most minimal metaphysics: "the most that can sensibly be said" about everything at once, and then some. I had wanted this post to be wordless, but you won't get much out of it if I don't do quite a lot of setup first. A version with the German original and both flawed English translations is here.


Proposition 6.41

  1. Reality is the aggregation of everything real.
  2. What is real are facts. A fact is a specific configuration of existing fundamental things.
  3. When we think, we model a possible world. The structure of the model is logic.
  4. When we think properly, we are entertaining a premise with a determinate concept attached.
  5. Whether a statement is successful depends on whether its constituents are.
  6. All statements have the same structure. With one general formula (just one powerful function, the "N-operator", the denial of all propositions f[x]), you can derive the fundamental particles of language and, from there, all more complex statements. The formula of all language:

  7. There is more to all this than can be put in words.

  • 'Sachverhalt': A 'state of affairs' or 'atomic fact'. (see Proposition 2.)
  • 'Gegenständ': An 'object' or 'simple': the merest constituents of reality.
  • 'Satz': A sentence (...or 'proposition').
  • 'Elementarsatz': A fundamental particle of language; a primitive concept. Mirror the Gegenstände.
  • 'Sinn': A 'sense', which here means a determinate proposition: the truth-conditions of a sentence.
  • 'sinnlos': 'Meaningless'. Lacking a single, totally clear propositional content. (e.g. tautologies and contradictions).
  • 'unsinnig': 'Senseless'. Total nonsense; a sentence which is too malformed to ever carry sense (e.g. metaphysics, ethics, the Tractatus)
  • 'Gedanke': A thought - but, again, he means only clear, 'sinnvoll' thoughts.

The following is not finished (the text after each section are key lines I still want to draw out). I'll use as little text as possible.



  1. The Context Principle:"A [word] has meaning only in a proposition. Every variable can be conceived as a propositional variable." - LW, 3.314

  2. The false (falsch) is not the nonsensical (Unsinnig) is not the senseless (Sinnlos): "Sense must be determinate." - LW, 3.23.

    Statements fail to express thoughts when
    1. any constituent of them lacks a truth-value, or
    2. is of indeterminate sense - that is, when any constituent is a pseudo-concept (e.g. "world"; "fact"; "God"; "object"; "the Good"; "beauty").
    The Tractatus fails in almost every line; under its own rules, it is plain nonsense. Compared to observation statements, logic is 'senseless', but philosophy is even less than that: nonsense. (6.54)

  3. The key argument (never presented as an argument, heaven forfend):

  4. Logic is Transcendental: "Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world." -LW, TLP 6.13

  5. Language is logical: Takes language to have a basic, reducible logical structure. (This is the bit that Russell vaunted as 'Logical Symbolism'.)

  6. So language is Transcendental (3 + 4)
    Hence language can lead to knowledge and end, at last, philosophy (or the Cartesian project, at least). In its logical structure, language bears recoverable "multiplicities" which relate directly to the external world.


Paragraphs 1 --> 2

1. The world is all that is the case.
1. & 1.11 & 1.2


2. What is the case is the existence of states of affairs


NB: Those birth descriptions are highly metaphorical; "objects" are supposed to be infinitesimal, "atomic" in the Greek sense. "Redness". The simplest possible units of what constitute facts. Looking more closely at a Gegenstand:

"A picture is a model of reality." - 2.12
2.141 - A picture is a fact.
2.172 - A picture cannot depict its pictorial form: it displays it.
2.19 - Logical pictures can depict the world.
2.223 - In order to tell whether a picture is true or false we must compare it with reality.
2.224 - It is impossible to tell from the picture alone whether it is true or false.

3. A logical picture of facts is a thought.

3.01 - The totality of true thoughts is a picture of the world.
3.1 - In a proposition a thought finds an expression that can be perceived by the senses.
3.3 - Only propositions have sense; only in the nexus of a proposition does a name have meaning.
3.332 - No proposition can make a statement about itself, because a propositional sign cannot be contained in itself.

4. A thought is a proposition with a sense.

4.003 - Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical.
4.0031 - All philosophy is a 'critique of language'. The apparent logical form of a proposition need not be its real one.
4.11 - The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science
4.461 - Propositions show what they say; tautologies and contradictions show that they say nothing.
4.464 - A tautology's truth is certain, a proposition's possible, a contradiction's impossible.

5. A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions.

5.3 - All propositions are results of truth-operations on elementary propositions.
5.6 - The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
5.61 - We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either.
5.621 - The world and life are one.
5.63 - I am my world. (The microcosm.)
5.632 - The subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world

6. The general forms of truth-functions and propositions are the same:

6.13 - Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world. Logic is transcendental.
6.2 - Mathematics is a logical method.
6.21 - A proposition of mathematics does not express a thought.
6.41 - The sense of the world must lie outside the world.
6.431 - At death the world does not alter, but comes to an end.
6.4311 - Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.
6.44 - It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.

7. Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.

Note that all of the things in these diagrams can in fact easily be said: they all fit into a set of propositions (albeit a self-refuting set): it's called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Drawing is only a kind of saying; the kind of reference that he means by zeigen is far less concrete and more important than this.
2.12 - A picture is a model of reality.
2.141 - A picture is a fact.
2.172 - A picture cannot depict its pictorial form: it displays it.
2.19 - Logical pictures can depict the world.
2.223 - In order to tell whether a picture is true or false we must compare it with reality.
2.224 - It is impossible to tell from the picture alone whether it is true or false.
3 - A logical picture of facts is a thought.
3.01 - The totality of true thoughts is a picture of the world.
3.1 - In a proposition a thought finds an expression that can be perceived by the senses.
3.3 - Only propositions have sense; only in the nexus of a proposition does a name have meaning.
3.332 - No proposition can make a statement about itself, because a propositional sign cannot be contained in itself.
4 - A thought is a proposition with a sense.
4.001 - The totality of propositions is language.
4.003 - Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical.
4.0031 - All philosophy is a 'critique of language'. The apparent logical form of a proposition need not be its real one.
4.11 - The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science
4.461 - Propositions show what they say; tautologies and contradictions show that they say nothing.
4.464 - A tautology's truth is certain, a proposition's possible, a contradiction's impossible.
5.3 - All propositions are results of truth-operations on elementary propositions.
5.6 - The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
5.61 - We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either.
5.621 - The world and life are one.
5.63 - I am my world. (The microcosm.)
6.13 - Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world. Logic is transcendental.
6.2 - Mathematics is a logical method.
6.21 - A proposition of mathematics does not express a thought.

6.431 - At death the world does not alter, but comes to an end.
6.4311 - Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.
6.44 - It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.


Two things that didn't exist, before

So, I'm told that it's actually a thing when people purge their friends list on social networking sites in response to real-life trauma.

I'm not saying that social networking invented the midlife crisis; just that this specific form of snubbing people, where you decide that you don't care about/want to avoid someone, and which has always gone on internally, has now been concretized and made available to the snubbed.

And: All the Fan Pages on these networks which highlight some trivial universal or other.

"walkin past some1 with a big afro and thinkin legend"

"saying thingy when you cant think of the word to say"

"it wasnt awkward til u said "this is awkward". Now its awkward"

"im not ignoring you, yr text is just pointless to reply to"

"i will go out of my way to step on a leaf that looks particularly crunchy"

"The Guy Who Discovered Milk...what was he doing with the cow!!?!?"

"Yeah, ok, yes, yeah, yeah, ok, yes, ok, i know, ok, yes, BYE MOM<."

"join if u havnt broke a bone"

"i used to cover my hands in glue at schooll just so I could peel it off"

"sorry i missed your call...LOL JK i ignored that shit"

"when you talk to an old friend how good the memories were" (started by a 14 year old, no doubt)

There's apparently whole industries springing up around people's desire for them. Creating them and looking for the ones applicable to yourself has become an activity in itself, rather than, I dunno, life. We will cram life into lolspeak, you just see if we don't.

I suppose the place they previously thrived in was in bad stand-up ("Hey, have you ever noticed..?") and stoner dens.
But also in novels - one of the best parts of reading! - where you saw a resonance of yourself, the author suddenly voices something you have never heard discussed but which is unmistakably human, or even unmistakably you. But strip the insight of the surrounding book (the chance surprise) and you're left with an oddly compulsive, witless thing. A trivialized triviality.

I won't complain (any more) though. It encourages reflection, of a sort; it draws on negative facts, which we are geared to overlook. It cracks open whisper it human nature in a way that previously required artistic sensitivity.


Punk as Ideology

"Punk is a music that is inherently hilarious. To try to make serious punk music is like trying to make serious happy hardcore. That's never been its purpose for me."



"It has always been my way to de-value the fashionable, light-hearted, impulsive traits that people associate with punk, because punk is more than that, so much more. Those elements become trivial in the light of the experience that punkers share."

– Greg Graffin

I only mean "ideology" in the new neutral sense of 'a set of political beliefs'. (Whereas marxists and politicians use it as an insult.)

Political science splits ideologies into: their core beliefs (the essence of the thing), adjacent beliefs (other commonly found themes), and peripheral (fringe but distinctive) beliefs. This clunky approach lets us account for the mind-jarring variety of people that all call themselves "liberals", or "socialists", or whatever.

While I'm being academic about it: the following recognises only one rough temporal distinction (1970s fashion vs C21st counterculture) and focusses on the Chomskyist, ineffectual, teenage Punk of Britain, America, Australia, rather than the capital-R resistance in Indonesia, Burma, Chile, etc.

Punk crawled out of an aesthetic in 1970s New York art and London fashion. As such, and despite the namedropping Malcolm McLaren might have made to the contrary, it was basically apolitical. But whether it originally was or not, it has been taken to be a political movement, and when you have this much social energy surrounding something, being is less important than becoming. (I use "punx" below for the personal-political, dressing-up/ spitting/ crusty/ amoral side of things, which overlaps only somewhat with the political formulation.) Throughout, I resist abstracting the Punk Ideal from Punk Rock music, mostly because it's very barren to me without that engine, that cresting noise.

Even if you grant its evolution into a New Social Movement, you might still deny that punk is genuinely political, call it antipolitical, as seen in the tendency to spoil votes, and in the way that the idea of a punk politician feels paradoxical.

Some people define "politics" as "collective, negotiated use of power" - and in this sense, while anarchism (and fascism) is a form of government, it is not a form of politics. Punk is too large to tie to just "spiky-hair anarchism", though. There's a great vague family of identities, but any given form of it usually circles an anarchism-meets-an existentialism-meets-hormones.


  • + Absolute egalitarianism:
    But often in a specific inverted way: "We are all sub-human scum. You're no better than me, I no more than you." To the point of ignoring legitimate difference. Or, as DRI put it: "Look at you, Look at me, there's no difference I can see." (Entails the DIY ethic, and bands playing in, not above the crowd. Also implies Internationalism)

  • +The rhetoric of free thought
    Self-described rebels, self-elected freethinkers. (Entails social activism, protesting, irreligiousness, and civil disobedience)

  • + The rhetoric of authenticity:
    In which it prefigured thug-hop's "realness". (Entails abhorrence of popularity.)

  • + Demonization of authority
    John Pilger and Noam Chomsky being common credible sources for the stance.


  • + Individualism, individualism, individualism
    (Entails obsession with nonconformity; customized, deviant appearance [sometimes itself a new uniform]; drugs; refusal of ordinary roles.)

  • + Anticapitalism
    Marxist terms get thrown about a lot in lyrics and interviews, though few bands really took it on with real seriousness. (TROTSKY DOES SKA!) (Entails guilt about consumerism, disdain for materialism, and opportunistic squatting, freeganism.)

  • + Antiglobalization
    Anger, often vague, about the linked phenomena that are assumed to be limited to corporate conglomeration, labour outsourcing, tax evasion, economic unaccountability and all that. I say anti rather than the continental label, 'alter-mondialisation' because most Brits miss the point: that there are many globalisations and the one where foreign music and history and places are more accessible than they have ever ever been is also globalisation. There are very, very few arguments that can counterweight this more or less conclusive, more or less inspiring piece of research.

  • + Being angry and a bit muddled
    See treatments of any of: Left individualism and/or Socialism and/or anarchism.

  • + New Anarchism. Anarchism was fairly dormant from the end of the Spanish Civil War to the 70s. Punk revitalized it, rebranded it - while it was always a thing for angry young men, it is now the quintessential youth politics, away from the mannered, literary resistance of Kropotkin or Proudhon, towards the tragically hip Hakim Bey and Howard Zinn.

  • + Animal rights & Ecologism
    Sadly often of a sentimental rather than intellectual nature, but punks can still be seen to have disproportionate awareness of social justice, ethical and environmental issues, at least where this conforms to the above anti-state, anti-tradition rules. (Entails veganism, BIKEPUNK)

  • + Snobbery
    A rejection of pop culture, as "brainwashing commercialized shit" or as simply "shit". Part of the long series of rejections one must conduct in order to be truly DIY. (Entails abhorrence of popularity, the fear and hatred of "selling out". This leads to casualties.)

  • + Inverse snobbery
    A rejection of quality ("bourgeois"), of tradition. Again mostly not because of any Marxist or other social critique, but because it's boring or inaccessible or old.

Now; in between these two snobberies, what do we find? : The grand retreat called The Subculture, and its churches the commune or the Punk House. We'll build a little birdhouse in your world. In this way it's a blatant antecedent of Josiah Warren and other utopian folk's attempts to break away and create a perfect part inside the evil whole.


  • + Anarcho-capitalism(!)

  • + Far-left Oi: genre with emphasis on working-class aggro.

  • + Racism: (Far-right Oi)

  • + Racism: (ordinary)

And yes, the last two do suggest that placing "egalitarianism" in the core is misguided.

(c) Penny Rimbaud

  1. DAFFY - see James quote above; this is punk as prank music, an inept, energetic and democratic fountain of youth. Politics never was a necessary condition. (Out of the hundreds of songs that quintessential punk band The Ramones recorded, only one or two can at all be described as political.)
  2. FASHION / NIHILIST - Up the Punx - see Appendix (Can be intellectualized, but it's no politics.
  3. RATIONALIST - Po-faced progressives. (e.g. Ian MacKaye, Greg Graffin, Terry Eagleton, Suzanne Moore)
  4. ANARCHO - Radical as it gets. (e.g. Penny Rimbaud) & or FEMINIST - (Riot grrl)

The following applies to the last two. The appendix applies to the nihilistic (2).

If I were more radical in an orthodox way, I suppose I'd resent even political punk for being hollow and distracting; for being childish and unrigorous. As it is, I just have grudging respect for its utopianism and an addiction to the sounds it has thrown up.



Here's where the stereotypes of thuggery and idiocy come from: this is Punk as post-hippie aesthetic. It primarily trades in on Cold War kids' fear, anger, alienation. A self-centred, rebel disaffection - and an adjective: "he's so punk rock".

Anyone who's vague on the aesthetic can just take a look-see at the band names ("Teenage Jesus and the Jerks", "the Vibrators", "the Lunachicks", "the Meat Puppets", "Black Flag/White Flag/Anti-Flag").

I like hate and I hate everything else!
-Peter Bagge


+ Irony,
+ Pessimism,
+ Amateurism.
+ Depiction of crime, atrocities and the Other.

+ Primitivism - Embrace of the the freakish, the low, the cheap and the taboo, for kicks (Lou Reed, Iggy) or semi-political art (Patti Smith).

+ Nihilism - Deviance. Embrace of the amoral and sleazy and violent. Wear the hakenkreuz just to offend. Obsession with kitsch and cool. (Richard Hell)

+ Syncretism: You can find basically any genre that has at least one band or other adding "-punk" to it. And much has been made, historiographically, of the ska-reggae-dub-punk coplex of the early 80s.

+ Collage - People talk about this as a hip-hop specialty (and sampling did take it into music. And yet.

+ Distrust of the old: "Year Zero". Reinvent, hyperbolize the generation gap.
In case you had any doubts: Punk art does work. We study anti-intellectuals, blood-fascists and theoryless thugs in English literature lectures, I suppose because it's not education that fuels art. Nor beauty. Nor reason.

A telling episode in the style is the release of Bad Religion's second album Into the Unknown. They had built a fanbase in the fast basic hardcore scene, but ItU is a big cheap proggy thing, and not bad at all if you're not looking for a punk record.

Whatever intellectual aspirations BR might have had towards punk being somehow about freedom, somehow about real individualism, were sunk when the extent of hostility and mockery became clear. More or less all of the first and only pressing was recalled.


Who else needs a disclaimer like this?

(Napalm Death, "Nazi Punks Fuck Off")


"It is unnecessary for music to make people think. It would be enough if it made them listen."

– Debussy

"I don't know why we are here, but I'm quite sure that is not in order to enjoy ourselves."

– Wittgenstein